Farmers, it's not about race and we're listening
Agriculture DG speaks to Times Select after summit to address farming community's many concerns
“It's not about white. It's not about black, or coloured, or Indian. It's about the safety and investment security of all farmers and farm workers, the protection of our economy and the creation of a life of dignity.”
These are the words of Mike Mlengena, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries director-general, following a two-day summit in Pretoria on critical issues affecting the country's farming community.
The summit was called by the Agricultural Department in an effort to fight off fear-mongering and accusations that government is ignoring concerns around proposed land acquisitions without compensation and violent crime affecting farmers and farm workers.
The summit closed on Friday – the D-day for submissions to the constitutional review committee on proposed land expropriation without compensation.
The committee, which will now hold public hearings across the country between June 27 and August 4, is looking at whether the Constitution must be amended to allow for land expropriation without compensation.
Parliament ordered a review to try and address disproportionate landownership and unequal property rights.
Since calls for public comment were made in April, the committee has received an estimated 700,000 submissions, with over 300,000 coming from AfriForum and the Freedom Front Plus and tens of thousands more from various farming associations and civic rights groups.
Mlengena said the summit had taken place at a critical time.
He said he decided to call all role-players together, including those from the international community, civil and human rights groups and farming assassinations, to ensure that once and for all “that we deal with all issues affecting South Africa's farming community.
“These issues include farm murders, home invasions, stock theft and issues affecting farm workers.”Mlengena said the issues discussed were not just ones which affected the farming community.
“It's not as though the farming community operates in isolation. These issues destabilise the economy, and cost lives and jobs.
“How can a farmer work 24 hours a day on their farm when they have no confidence in whether they and their family will be secure? How can farmers invest in their stock, when they know that people could come and steal their property? It will be difficult for anyone to invest in farming when they know that the returns on their investments are in doubt as a result of crime.”
Mlengena, a farmer himself, said the most important point he had raised at the summit was that the scourge plaguing South Africa's farming community had nothing to do with race.
“Crime was not directed just at whites. What is happening to our farming community is not about race. It's not about white. It's not about black, coloured or Indian. It's about the safety and investment security of all farmers and farm workers, the protection of our economy and the creation of a life of dignity.”
He said while the issue of land expropriation was not discussed specifically, he had reminded delegates that the summit was the perfect opportunity to come together to find solutions to the problem of landlessness.
“There are many without land. We need to look at the best solution to this. As a department we have emphasised the president's assertion that land acquisition will not happen at the expense of agriculture and economic growth.
“Those who attended were rational people who are aware of the fundamental issues, including the problem of landlessness and how a lot of crime is being caused because people do not have land. The issue of land is about restoring people's human dignity.”Mlengena said that, during the summit, commissions were formed to come up with proposals to the issues that were raised.
“We have established task teams to monitor the implementation of these proposals, with progress reports to be delivered at an upcoming inter-ministerial summit on farm safety.
“Government is serious about this. We have not got a choice. People's lives and dignity depend on the implementation of the proposals which come from this summit.”
Transvaal Agricultural Union SA general manager Bennie van Zyl said the summit was welcomed with delegates having received positive feedback from government.
“The Agricultural Department director-general realises the reality of the situation facing the country's farming sector, especially when it comes to safety, the economy and issues around land expropriation. What we now need to see is the political will to address critical and thorny issues which were raised at the summit.
“A number of these issues, including the issue of land, are ticking time bombs. If they are not addressed soon they will explode. Crime is unacceptable, with 56 murdered a day. Regardless of who is killed, whether they are from farms or the cities, it is unacceptable and must be urgently addressed.”
AfriForum's deputy chief executive, Ernst Roets, who attended the summit, welcomed what had been discussed.
“It was a good initiative and brought all the right role-players to the table. We heard positive comments from government when it came acknowledging that something urgently needs to be done to address concerns of the farming sector.
“What we now need to see is action. There have been these summits before. We now need more than summits, we need to something tangible to avoid this just being another talk shop.”
The summit was held to thrash out various issues affecting the farming sector, beyond crime, and included discussions on working and living conditions of farm workers.